SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – On
a windy, end-of-winter Saturday afternoon in Salt Lake City, a No.
1-ranked junior college pitching prospect may be the last thing you’d
expect to see. At
Cate Field, however, home to the Bruins of Salt Lake Community
College, former first round draft pick, Phil Bickford of the College
of Southern Nevada, was taking the hill with hopes of getting a win
for his team and improving his personal record to 4-1 on the season.
6-foot-4, 205-pound Bickford has grown accustomed to drawing an
abundance of scouts every time he takes the bump, but on this
afternoon, it seemed he could simply be a member of the team and go
out have some fun.
from the 20-year old's mind was his personal status as one of the
best pitching prospects in the college ranks. Instead, the athletic,
long-legged hurler with the curly blonde locks flowing from his cap
was focused only on dominating the Bruin lineup and helping his squad
earn a victory.
the Coyotes’ 4-1 extra-inning win, Bickford did not earn the W, but
he pitched well enough to do so. He went five innings, of the
scheduled seven-inning game, scattering three hits and surrendering
only a single unearned run. He walked two batters, one of which was
the only Bruin to cross the plate during his watch.
the workmanlike performance of the sophomore, it was his 12
strikeouts of the 19 would-be hitters he faced that stood out. Bickford’s
90-plus mph fastball, in conjunction with his ever-improving slider,
had the Bruins guessing, especially during a stretch that saw him sit
down nine straight batters.
in the fifth inning did Salt Lake capture a rare run on the tall
righty. Not that that would be an indication of his day, but that
fifth frame would be his last work on the afternoon as he exited a
1-1 tie, leaving it up to his bullpen to pull out the victory.
was a really good day. I like the results,” said Bickford after the
game. “The slider, in the beginning, was a little off, but I found
it. Just making sure to stay on top of it and throw it a lot with the
has a changeup in his arsenal, along with a pair of fastballs and a
slider, yet he decided not to go to it much in this outing.
really pleased how well the slider is coming along,” Bickford
added. “There hasn’t been a lot of opportunity to use the
changeup. We keep working on it. It’s one of the secondary pitches
that I need to keep down in the zone and that’s really happening
with the slider right now.
really just working on commanding both sides of the plate. Getting
ahead in the counts, knowing what to throw next and just gaining
confidence in my secondary stuff.”
from Newbury Park, Calif., has been a top prospect since his prep
days at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village. He’s always
been a pitcher he said, but in the early days enjoyed hitting as an
everyday first baseman.
actually got my first callup as a freshman to be a hitter,”
Bickford recalled. “But it wasn’t long after that when my coach
was like, ‘you’re just gonna pitch now.’ I was cool with that
because I really loved pitching. It’s been a blessing to be able to
work with and learn from the kind of players I always looked up to. I
knew around then, yeah, this was something I could do.”
was drafted in the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013, but
went unsigned and decided to go to school and play ball at Cal State
a member of the Titans, the freshman went 6-3 in 10 starts and was
third on the staff with 76 innings pitched. During his time at
Fullerton, he continued to leave little doubt why he was worthy of
the attention from the major leagues.
how happy the coaches at Southern Nevada were when word came early in
the fall that the 2014 Perfect Game Summer Collegiate National Player
of the Year was coming to school in Clark County.
from day one, I just realized how much chemistry was on this team,”
Bickford explained. “It’s a really cool thing when everybody gets
along and has each other’s back and really just wants to win. From
the coaches on down, we just want to win.”
pretty humble talk from an athlete at the young age of 20 years old,
who has found himself on the national baseball radar.
Sports Information Director, Andrew Farrar is impressed with the
maturity of the big righthander.
just the nicest kid,” Farrar gushed. “From the time he got here
he’s been nothing short of a great teammate. (He) treats everybody
politely and wants to be your friend. When we painted our fences
before the season he was the first one out there with a paint brush.”
must be quite an asset for Coyote head coach, Nick Garritano, to have
such a nice young man in his rotation. One grounded enough to help
paint the fences yet wicked enough to paint the corners with a 93 mph
pitched well today,” Garritano said. “Would have liked to gotten
him a couple more runs, but that’s the way it goes for him
sometimes. But, when he’s dominant, like he was today, we always
have the chance to win.”
is what Bickford says he wants to focus on right now. Not the path
he’s taken to get to where he is today and not the next MLB draft
where he will surely be a first round selection again. A lightning
rod is a lightning rod, though, and Bickford has all the traits of
becoming a pro.
all the resources necessary at his fingertips, including the tools
that project him as a major league reliever at least, it will be up
to him to continue to grow as the PG No. 1 JUCO prospect in the
now I’m just focused on a day at a time with this ball club,”
Bickford said. “The draft is in the future and I really don’t let
it cross my mind. Obviously, you think about it sometimes because
it’s there, but it isn’t changing anything I’m doing here with
this team. I mean it when I say it, I’m all about helping this team
and getting an opportunity to win a ring.
what it’s all about right now.”